Legal highs fuelling conflict

IAIN SCOTT
Last updated 12:00 08/01/2014

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The festive season saw an increase in the number of reported domestic incidents in Palmerston North, with police noting that legal highs had joined alcohol in fuelling disputes.

Police were called to 254 domestic incidents last month, compared with 178 in December 2012.

There were 58 incidents in the first week of this month. There were 225 domestic incidents in the whole of January last year, police response manager Senior Sergeant Phil Skoglund said.

"Looking at those figures, there would be an increase, but I wouldn't say it's a dramatic increase."

There were 145 domestic incidents in September, 181 in October, and 219 in November, he said.

"So there has been a gradual increase every month, but, to be fair, in July 2013, there were 171 incidents, down to 145 in September."

Alcohol clearly played a role in many of the incidents, but legal highs had sometimes also been a factor, he said. "The connection may be small, but it is worth noting."

The Palmerston North Women's Refuge crisis phone line had been busy from December 27 to at least Friday, manager Ang Jury said this week.

The refuge's two safe houses accommodated six women and about seven children over the Christmas period, with just one spare bedroom left.

"Two women moved on," Dr Jury said. "We found housing for them, so we are not at capacity."

However, housing for victims of domestic violence was likely to remain in short supply unless there was a "social policy announcement" or an increase in state housing.

Dr Jury said the average stay at the refuge used to be about 10 days, but it was now three weeks or more.

"It has been like that for about a year. There's a shortage of rental accommodation in Palmerston North. And our clients, not through any fault of their own, often have histories that don't make them attractive to rental companies."

The shortage of housing for victims of domestic violence was unlikely to change in the near future, she said.

The refuge's second safe house was opened in October last year, allowing it to house nine women and about 17 children across the two houses, compared with four women and 13 children at the one house previously.

Manawatu Tenants Union spokesman Kevin Reilly said yesterday that something needed to be done to house a "growing underclass".

"There are empty houses in Palmerston North that have been deemed to be prone to liquefaction," he said.

About 70 people were relocated from state housing in Palmerston North last year when 21 Housing New Zealand properties were deemed earthquake-prone.

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"A lot of women and children coming through needing accommodation would be happy to stay there.

"There's not a lot of compassion around. We've been fighting a long time to get something done about these houses."

Mr Reilly said he would like to see some action from the Government.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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